Espalier Apple Trees Rework - 2016 Updates

Ps… all those little buds/spurs that developed last year after summer pruning… and even some buds that did not develop as a spur… but looked more like a veg bud… have come out now and have blossoms.

I counted 12 clusters of blossoms on that little novamac on b9 espellar yesterday.

I am impressed for sure at its desire to bloom and fruit.

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Same here. The late summer pruning definitely brought out some spurs and blooms. I had a lot less winter pruning to do, too.

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@Rosdonald — the only downside I saw to summer pruning… especially on my larger trees is at winter pruning time… like you said… a lot less to do, but also very little if any scion wood to collect (not pencil sized scions anyway). I had pruned most of those off. I did get some growth after that but not enough to make decent size scion wood.

This summer I will summer prune again… but will pay attention and leave some nice scion wood to collect here and there… for trading.

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Exactly right on the scionwood. I marked a few branches with flagging tape that I wanted to keep and offered very little scions this year.

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I try to limit my shoots to seven leaves. There is the original 3-4 leaves then as it grows throughout the summer I’ll snip them back. I have lots of blooms this year (3rd year). Grannywinkle and Campfield.


I didn’t need to do any winter pruning, surprisingly, so I just let the trees run with spring. Leaves, and once again, no flowers. I have a couple non-espaliered small trees right next to these and they, too, are flowerless. The soil was originally almost sterile, I amended fully and have kept up with amending, watering, etc., but despite decent growth, no flowers. It’s very disappointing.

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Are you getting shoots? If so, you have to stay on top of them throughout the growing season and continuously pinch or cut them back, to between 4 and 7 leaves. This will get you flowers next year. I’m sure it must be disheartening.

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It’s been a bad year for fire blight in my area (North Carolina) and I wondered how everyone’s trees are doing this year? I left a lot of long branches on my espalier trees last year because they are tip bearing and I worried I would cut away too many fruiting buds. Fortunately or unfortunately, this was my first year with fire blight, and I have more options to prune the infected secondary branches before I get to the main branches. This whole process has me curious though. It seems like fire blight and espalier trees would be in direct conflict with each other because you will probably have to prune off one of your branches at some point.
What are other peoples thoughts?

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@JinMA posted about one of his espaliered apples (a Belgian fence) got fire blight not long ago. Hope he will chime in to share his experience.


Unfortunately, my tree died, and even cutting back to the rootstock I was not able to find healthy wood to do an emergency graft of something else. So, it turns out that Pomiferous wasn’t kidding when they said that American Beauty is very prone to blight (at least in my area).

Overall, @kdegs thought process seems sound to me, in terms of the problems that espalier would present in blight prone regions. Another issue might be the risk of introducing disease when doing summer pruning. Apart from the late lamented American Beauty, I haven’t had too much trouble yet (knock on wood), and I’m actually kind of encouraged that only the one tree had serious problems, but I’m planning to delay most of my summer pruning a bit to reduce the risk. (Something UMass recommends for growers in my area, if I remember correctly.)

On another espalier-related note, I’m currently working on rebuilding the trellis for my Belgian fence with some beefier bamboo. Will try to post some pictures.


@JinMA Thanks for responding! I’m sorry to hear about your tree. What other varieties have you planted that are working for you?

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Most things have been fine in terms of being reasonably healthy. Our trees are really just starting to bear fruit, so it’s a little early to say for that part. But here’s a quick rundown - keep in mind that this info is based on a fairly short period of time, a fairly small number of trees, and a scant handful of fruit:

Trees that have borne fruit

Adams Pearmain This was one of our first trees to fruit, and one of my favorites of the apples we’ve grown so far. Rich, sweet-tart, a bit of orange to the flavor. Not the strongest grower but healthy enough overall. Trains well to espalier.

Hunt Russet Similar flavor to AP but a little more to the tart side (maybe tangerine as opposed to orange). Stronger grower but not as easy to train and not as quick to fruit.

Black Oxford Similar flavor to AP and HR, but maybe a little tarter and definitely harder. Still nice eating, though. Should note that these three are all known as keepers and I was eating them fresh off the tree because we only got a couple of fruit, so they might well be better after a bit of storage. Black Oxford has been a bit slower to fruit. Easy to grow but harder to train for espalier - seems like it really wants to develop a central leader.

Gray Pearmain And just a little tarter still - kind of lemony. Too tart for my wife’s taste, but I enjoyed it. May have been a bit underripe. Pretty good for growing and training.

Mother Distinctive though kind of understated flavor, and quite variable as its known to be. The one very good one we got had a really nice vanilla taste to it, and a curiously refreshing quality - feels kind of cool in your mouth. The other was pleasant enough but not very memorable. Pretty easy to grow and train but blooms very late for us - still a stray bloom on it now. Might not be the best for a more FB-prone location.

Kidd’s Orange Red (I think) Not as highly flavored but still very pleasant eating, large attractive fruit. Pretty easy to grow and train but tends to brush out if dormant pruned too hard.

Hubbardston Nonesuch (I think) Pleasant eating, not super distinctive but very nice apple-that-tastes-like-apple. I kind of botched the grafting job on this one and it’s been slow/weak to grow, but quick to bear fruit.

Not Pomme Gris Not sure what this is, but I’m happy to have it. It’s been super easy to grow and train and the one apple we got last year was very enjoyable: crisp, snow-white flesh and straight-up-apple taste. Will hopefully get an idea for ID the next time it fruits (no fruit this year).

Hoople’s Antique Gold Easy to grow and train and blossoms profusely. First year of fruit was not especially good, but (a) it was the first year and (b) I probably picked it a little too early as squirrels were getting at it. Hoping the fruit is better this year but planning to keep it as an easy grower and good pollinator in any case.

Pitmaston Pineapple Very easy to grow and train, but the first year’s fruit was disappointing. Just kind of blah. Hoping it will improve (and maybe I need to get a better sense of when to pick).

Fall Russet One of our strongest growers. Kind of stuck in a corner where I tend to forget about it. Last year was the first year it bore fruit, and I picked it way too early because the birds were getting at it.

Reine des Reinettes If that’s what it is? Easy to grow and train, but the first year of apples were heavily watercored and not great in terms of texture or taste. No fruit last year, but bearing again this year, so we’ll see what we get.

Bearing for the first time this year

Orleans Reinette Easy to grow and train. Pretty close to ideal for espalier. Have not had fruit from our own tree, but this is one of my favorites out of the antique apples that we’ve bought, so looking forward to getting a taste of it this year.

Roxbury Russet Kind of a wonky grower, slow to get going and somewhat lopsided. One of our two trees had some blossoms get fried by FB, but I think there’s still some fruit out there. One of my wife’s favorites out of the apples we’ve bought.

Wheeler’s Golden Russet (Different from Wheeler’s Russet of the UK - this is apparently a sport of Golden Russet that was found in our part of Western MA in the 1970s.) One of our stronger-growing trees though seems to be a bit unbalanced.

Blue Pearmain I think this may have had an apple or two last year, but if it did the squirrels got them. Pretty strong but slightly wonky grower.

Edward VII Moderately vigorous and reasonably trainable so far.

Old Nonpareil Had a rough start (not the best grafting job by me) but seems to be coming along now. Unusually pretty blossoms and seems to be a willing, possibly overenthusiastic, bearer.

Been growing a while but no fruit yet

Westfield Seek No Further Not too hard to grow, tends to be kind of twiggy.

Belle de Boskoop Very easy to grow. A big boy.

Bramley Also very easy to grow, but a bit wilder to train. Very big boy.

More recently grafted

Ashmead’s Kernel
Claygate Pearmain
Kerry Pippin
St. Edmund’s Pippin
Pumpkin Russet
Windham Russet

Grafted this year

King of Tompkins County
Court of Wick
Golden Nugget
Pomme Gris
Second tree of KOR
I feel like there’s one more that’s slipping my mind?


Nice write up. Thank you.
No Rubinette or Calville Blanc?


grey Pearmain sounds lovely- espalier take longer so it must be rewarding to get fruit in such a pretty tree


@mamuang I think I had read that Rubinette could be disease-prone/hard to grow, and I was trying to go with things that I might be able to get away with not spraying. I’m thinking about adding Calville Blanc (possibly in the space recently vacated by American Beauty, which is one of the sunnier spots I have available - I hear CB really likes the sun.)

@resonanteye I enjoyed Gray Pearmain. I think we’ve got some on the tree this year, so if I get a chance to taste them again I will update my report. (Squirrels willing…)


This picture shows the old bamboo supports. (Actually, my dad, who grew them in his yard, said they’re technically a reed, not actual bamboo.) They held up pretty well, six or seven years I think, but as you can see they were starting to split and just kind of wear out to the point that they were no longer providing the necessary support and control for training the trees. Also, they weren’t really long enough, so as the trees grew I had to double them up by lashing a new layer of supports to the lower layer, which you can see in the picture. This worked for a while but was not going to hold up for much longer.


This new picture shows the new bamboo supports that I’m putting in. (Also grown by my dad. If anyone is thinking about building a Belgian fence, a stand of bamboo might be a nice complementary investment.) As you can see, the poles are tied together at each crossover point, and also tied in to the horizontal wires of the trellis at about 2’ and 4’ off the ground. The wires are hung on standard garden t-posts every eight feet and then the whole thing is anchored by 8’ black locust splits at the end. The splits are sunk about 2’ into the ground. For something that was probably not the best way of doing it, the whole thing has held up pretty well. (One advantage of the Belgian fence is that the poles provide a lot of the support, so you don’t need to have as much tension on the wires as you might in some other forms of espalier, which simplifies life a bit.)


The next two pictures give you a bit of a sense of how it looks from the street. You can actually see the edge of the blacktop in the first picture. What you can’t quite see is the big maple trees that bookend our property. Having limited space and sun was a big part of the rationale for going the espalier route.



This is a view from the garden side of the espalier. You can see how the older part of the trellis is getting kind of wonky toward the right.


And our Belgian fence of pears in the back. As you can see, it’s pretty bushy right now, and the trellis needs some work. Poppies look pretty, though. (They invaded from our neighbors’ yard.)



just beautiful all of it. the flowers are great there. may squirrels get lost before they find your property and end up at the neighbor’s house instead.


Let’s hope! We had a bumper crop of squirrels last year, but seems like there’s fewer this year, so maybe we’ll get more apples.

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Is there any way to prevent critters (chipmunks & squirrels) from getting at the fruit. Mine are all gone just as they start to ripen. I tried bird netting but they managed to get into it.

Rat traps?

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Just now saw this, not keeping up on correspondence like I should! I summer pruned in mid-July (Northern NV) back to 3-leaves, and they’ve sprouted out to 5-7. Now I don’t know if I should reprune or let them go for the winter! I really thought I understood all this, but clearly, I don’t.

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